Most people can eventually return to their normal activities after a heart transplant, although it may be a few months before you feel up to it.

See below for information and advice about:

Follow-up appointments

Immunosuppressants

Exercise

Diet

Smoking and alcohol

Sex, pregnancy and contraception

Driving, travel and work or school

Follow-up appointments

You'll have regular follow-up appointments to monitor your progress after a heart transplant.

These will be quite frequent at first, but may eventually only be necessary once every few months, or possibly even once a year.

During these appointments, you will have tests to check how well your heart and medication are working, and to check for any complications of a heart transplant.

Immunosuppressants

You'll need to take several medications called immunosuppressants for the rest of your life after having a heart transplant.

Without these medicines, your body may recognise your new heart as foreign and attack it. This is known as rejection.

Immunosuppressants are powerful medications that can have a range of significant side effects, such as an increased vulnerability to infection, weak bones (osteoporosis), kidney problems and diabetes.

While these side effects may be troublesome, you should never stop taking your immunosuppressants without medical advice. If you do, it could lead to your heart being rejected.

Read more about immunosuppressant side effects.

Exercise

You'll usually receive support from a physiotherapist while you're still in hospital to help you get around and build up your strength.

You'll also be encouraged to take part in a cardiac rehabilitation programme after going home. This involves following a personalised exercise plan to help you regain your previous strength and mobility.

You can return to gentle exercise when you're feeling up to it. Avoid strenuous activities such as pushing, pulling or lifting anything heavy for at least 6 to 12 weeks.

You may eventually be able to take part in contact sports and more extreme activities such as marathon running or mountain climbing, but you should always get advice from your transplant team first.

Diet

You don't usually need to have a special diet after a heart transplant. A generally balanced diet can help with healing and ensure you stay as healthy as possible.

A healthy diet may also help reduce the risk of some of the side effects of immunosuppressants, including weight gain, osteoporosis and diabetes.

Immunosuppressants also make you more vulnerable to infections, including food poisoning. Make sure you practise good food hygiene to reduce your risk of getting a tummy bug.

Smoking and alcohol

Smoking can be very harmful, so you'll usually be advised to stop or avoid smoking after a heart transplant.

Read more advice and information about stopping smoking.

You can still drink alcohol after a heart transplant, although you should avoid drinking excessive amounts. Try to avoid regularly drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week.

Sex, pregnancy and contraception

Speak to your transplant team if you want to try for a baby after having a heart transplant.

They will talk to you about the possible risks, any extra care you might need, and any possible changes to your medication.

You may be advised to wait until at least a year after your transplant operation before trying for a baby.

If you're not trying for a baby, speak to your transplant team about appropriate contraception, as some types of contraceptive pill can interfere with your immunosuppressant medication.

Even if you're taking the pill, it's a good idea to ensure you or your partner use a barrier method of contraception, such as a condom, because you're at an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Driving, travel and work or school

You'll need to stop driving for at least a month after a heart transplant, and you may not be able to start again for 6 to 12 weeks. Ask your transplant team for advice about when it's safe to drive.

Many people can return to work after a heart transplant, but how long it takes depends on your job and how well you recover. Most people return to work within six months.

Children who've had a heart transplant may be able to return to school within two or three months.

You can travel after a heart transplant, but it might be a good idea to wait until the first year of frequent follow-up appointments has finished. Speak to your transplant team for more advice on travelling.

Page last reviewed: 25/05/2016

Next review due: 25/05/2018